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Aleya Flechsenhar, Olivia Larson, Albert End, Matthias Gamer; Investigating overt and covert shifts of attention within social naturalistic scenes. Journal of Vision 2018;18(12):11. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/18.12.11.
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Eye-tracking studies on social attention have consistently shown that humans prefer to attend to other human beings. Much less is known about whether a similar preference is also evident in covert attentional processes. To enable a direct comparison, this study examined covert and overt attentional guidance within two different experimental setups using complex naturalistic scenes instead of isolated single features. In the first experiment, a modified version of the dot-probe paradigm served as a measure of covert reflexive attention toward briefly presented scenes containing a social feature in one half of the visual field compared to nonsocial elements in the other while controlling for low-level visual saliency. Participants showed a stable congruency effect with faster reaction times and fewer errors for probes presented on the social side of the scene. In a second experiment, we tracked eye movements for the same set of stimuli while manipulating the presentation time to allow for differentiating reflexive and more sustained aspects of overt attention. Supportive of the first results, analyses revealed a robust preference for social features concerning initial saccade direction as well as fixation allocation. Collectively, these experiments imply preferential processing of social features over visually salient aspects for automatic allocation of covert as well as overt attention.
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